Westmoreland parents sentenced for locking child in closet

Nov. 8—Shawn and Tammy Jo Waulk told a Westmoreland County judge Monday they were embarrassed and regretted their actions two years ago when they locked their 9-year-old son in a closet and left him alone as they attended a relative’s birthday party.

“I made a horrible mistake, and there is no excuse for what I did. I am a good person who made a horrible mistake,” Shawn Waulk said before he and his wife were sentenced following their convictions in August on one misdemeanor count of child endangerment.

Common Pleas Judge Tim Krieger ordered Waulk, 35, and his wife, Tammy Jo Waulk, 36, now of Seward, to serve two years on probation. Following a nonjury trial last summer, the judge found the Waulks not guilty of reckless endangerment and false imprisonment by a parent.

According to court records, county children’s bureau caseworkers alerted state police after the agency received a phone tip in February 2020 that the boy had been locked and barricaded in a closet with pieces of wood screwed into the door and an electrical cord to keep it secure. An investigation resulted in allegations that the couple locked the child in the closet three times, including the incident when his parents left their home in Unity for about 90 minutes.

In court Monday, the Waulks said they took desperate measures to protect themselves and their other children from their emotionally troubled son, who previously had threatened to harm family members with a knife.

“There is absolutely no excuse for my behavior, and all I can say is I was at my wit’s end. He may be a troubled child, but he deserved better than this,” Tammy Jo Waulk said.

Shawn Waulk’s defense lawyer, Matt Schimizzi, said the child is in foster care. The Waulks’ two other children were removed from the home after criminal charges were filed but have since returned to their parents’ custody, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Pete Caravello asked that the Waulks serve six to 23 months in jail and an additional probation term.

“(The child) was restrained, his liberty was taken from him, and he did not know when the endpoint will occur. We’re asking for a sentence that includes a period of incarceration with an endpoint,” Caravello said.

Since their arrest, the Waulks said they have completed parenting classes as well as other social programs and now are better prepared to deal with their children, they told the judge.

Krieger said he found no reason to impose a jail sentence.

“None of us can countenance this type of behavior from a parent,” Krieger said. “I understand the parents believed they were in this by themselves and raising children can be hard, but we can’t accept this kind of behavior.”

Shawn Waulk is scheduled to return to court next month for trial on charges of rape of a child, aggravated incident assault and the indecent assault of another young child. Waulk was charged in that case in January 2021 for an incident police said they uncovered while investigating the allegations related to the boy in the closet.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .